Think of smart roads as autonomous vehicles’ (AVs) silent partner. Improving smart infrastructure on our roadways not only will help AVs navigate roads better and safer, but it will also enhance the entire transportation system’s performance.

AVs are touted as safer than human-driven vehicles since most accidents are due to human error. But before AVs are market-ready, technology advances are still needed to improve the vehicles’ ability to see around obstacles such as trucks and to anticipate pedestrian and vehicle movement.

For Construction Pros argues that smart roads are just as important as smart vehicles. The focus should go beyond AV technology to include upgrading the existing road infrastructure. Although some AV manufacturers don’t rely on smart roads, the publication says their development can play an important role in speeding up the adoption of AVs.  

What Are Smart Roads?

Intel says that cities can gather data with internet-of-things (IoT) technologies to manage traffic and plan for future transportation better. These devices include speed sensors, acoustic sensors, IP CCTV cameras, smart traffic lights, condition/weather monitoring systems, and digital signage. Data from IoT sensors, cameras, and radar, can be used in real-time to ease traffic flow. This data also can be used to reduce pollution and improve road conditions.

For Construction Pros reports that in Miami-Dade County, Florida, Ford’s AV team is looking at how smart infrastructure can feed AV data before it arrives at an intersection. In Las Vegas, Motional’s driverless vehicles work with Derq to provide a “bird’s-eye view” for AVs at some of that city’s busiest intersections. 

Smart Road Benefits

Smart roads could benefit cities in numerous ways:

  • Reducing congestion – Monitoring vehicle movement and adjusting traffic lights can help reduce traffic jams. On Arizona’s Bell Road Highway, the GRIDSMART System, powered by Intel® Core™ processors, uses computer vision to monitor intersections and collect near real-time traffic data. The system reduced delays by 20 percent on weekdays and 43 percent on weekends.
  • Improving safety – Computer vision can help detect and avoid other vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Smart devices also can alert first responders in the event of a crash or criminal activity. Intel worked with German industrial manufacturers to improve AV agility, vehicle safety, and traffic flow. Using Intel® Xeon® processors inside edge nodes, the project transmitted traffic information to oncoming vehicles on a highway between Munich and Nuremberg, and identified potential risks.
  • Charging toll fees – E-tolling can automatically charge highway and bridge tolling fees using license plate recognition. Intel worked with Shenzhen JHC Technology Development Co. to develop a toll-collecting system to detect and identify vehicles automatically, without slowing or stopping vehicles. The technology reduces congestion and keeps traffic moving.
  • Detecting and avoiding problem areas – Smart roads can provide analytics about intersections and roadways with a high collision. It can help planners determine what mitigating measures to take, such as signals, signage, or speed limit changes.
  • Monitoring road conditions – With smart roads, cities can monitor and repair pavement conditions more timely.
  • Reducing pollution – Idling engines produce a lot of pollution. Smart road technology can help optimize traffic flow to prevent traffic jams.  

Smart Road Technologies

PreScouter described four technologies that are advancing smart road implementation:

  1. Electric charging lanes – Many communities are working to integrate greater numbers of nonpolluting electric vehicles (EVs). In addition to installing electric charging stations, electric charging lanes could power vehicles while they’re in motion. ElectReon uses Dynamic Wireless Power Transfer (DWPT) to power electric buses with renewable energy while moving. DWPT also can exchange energy between other vеhicles on the rоad. ElectReon started a pilot program in Tel Aviv for buses in March 2021, and in May, it announced it would begin a trial charging road project in Italy.
  2. Smart pavement – Integrated Roadways, a Kansas City startup, has high-resolution fiber optic sensors and other technologies inside the pavement that can detect vehicles, gauge road conditions, and can also identify accidents, and notify emergency responders automatically.
  3. Solar road paint – As part of the Netherlands’ Smart Highway project, the Glowing Lines, solar paint installation collects energy during the day and glows at night to increase visibility and safety.
  4. Roads that Honk – India’s NH1 highway is known for being one of the world’s most dangerous. HP Lubricants and Leo Burnett India came together to install SmartLife poles at sharp curves and hairpin bends. The poles are advanced networked devices that detect vehicle speeds and sound a horn to alert oncoming vehicles. 

Smart Infrastructure Pilots

Around the world, startups and established companies are piloting smart road technologies. StartUs Insights listed its top five projects by startup companies: 

  •  Bercman is capturing traffic and road information with “bird’s eye view” technology. The Latvian startup’s Intersection Control Unit communicates with vehicles and infrastructure, and can detect speeding and red-light violations.
  •  Asimob’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology tracks road signs, traffic signals, road conditions, and construction activity. The Spanish company’s software detects road bumps and signage, and creates a digital map for traffic analysis.
  •  P3Mobility is working with local governments to develop smart road technology. The Canadian startup uses a radio spectrum to enable vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), V2I, and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications. The company provides traffic signals, smart lane traffic management for AVs, and other smart road technology.
  •  Valerann offers a traffic management platform using data from sensors and connected vehicles. The Israeli company’s data-driven insights can reduce accidents by improving traffic flow.
  • RoadSense Advanced Technologies, another Israeli startup, makes IoT sensors for smart roads. These sensors collect data ranging from traffic patterns and vehicle counts to driving behavior and hazards.
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